World Rally Championship 3
Yet another coup for Sony as they snag the exclusive WRC rights. But how does the game fare? We get into the nuts and bolts of it all. Haha, we said nuts.
By Kikizo Staff
WRC3: The Official Game of the FIA World Rally Championship. Doesn't exactly roll off the tongue, now does it? It does however, convey, in no uncertain terms, exactly what prospective customers can expect from the game. And that, of course, is the mandatory selection of teams, drivers, cars, liveries and events indelibly linked to the WRC circuit. As was the case with F1 2003, Sony's legal swashbuckling has all but ensured that WRC3 is the only game in town, or at least, the only game in town with the blessing of the sport's governing body, a fact Sony and Evolution Studios have gone to great lengths to flaunt. From the outset, players are inundated with facts, team and driver histories, course information, fly-bys, even going so far as to integrate live footage of the drivers, spectators and race action throughout the game's menu structure. It must be said, if nothing else, WRC3 certainly makes full use of the license.
The title offers only a modicum of game options: Quick Race, Time Trial and World Rally Championship, but as one could reasonably presume from a title bearing the WRC moniker, it is from this latter option that much of the game's value is to be gleaned. Housed within this mode are Test Track, Championship and Single Rally disciplines. The Championship mode allows up to four players to compete in a full WRC season, using the car and driver of their choosing. Prior to each event, players enter 'Shakedown,' a staging area wherein they're afforded the opportunity to tweak suspension, brake bias and gear ratios utilizing a simple checkbox interface to select the desired options.
Once satisfied with the setup, players proceed with the event itself, completing the various stages it comprises, before moving onto the next event where the entire process is repeated again; and so on throughout the season. As a concept, rallying is undeniably simple: aided by a co-driver shouting instructions, you attempt to make your way from one point to another in as short a time as possible. Said concept however, belies a sport that is markedly more intricate, and one that has, for the most part, been faithfully captured by the team at Evolution Studios. At its best, WRC3 is an exhilarating take on the sport, offering an intoxicating mix of speed, treacherous terrain and the ever-ticking clock; at its worst, it's a frustrating muddle of random quirks that sour the entire experience.
Easily the most annoying of these is the inconsistent physics engine. At times adhering stubbornly to the laws of physics, while at others offering such a loose interpretation that it would have Isaac Newton turning in his grave. You can roll a vehicle onto its side, but you cannot flip it; you can straddle sheer cliff faces, but you cannot bounce through mounds of snow. You can plough through poles and fences, but a flimsy metal barrier will always hold firm. Most aggravating of all is the ability for players to get stuck in the environment, with no recourse but to restart the race or retire from the event altogether. The game will, after a brief three-second count, reset the player's position should he stray too far from the delineated course, but sloppy collision detection can and will trap players in the environment, in a virtual no-man's land from which there is no escape. Needless to say, this can irrevocably hamper a player's season. A simple manual reset would have alleviated this problem -- perhaps even a limited number were the developers afraid of people exploiting the system.
Vehicle selection too, plays an integral role in your enjoyment of the title. Whether true-to-life or not, the control of certain vehicles proves far too loose, appearing far too 'twitchy' for most any player's liking. In all fairness, the good far outweighs the bad, but the fact remains that throughout the course of a regular season, players are highly likely to encounter a far greater number of 'oddities' as it were, than should otherwise be acceptable. But given the reasonable quality of the title, fans of the sport will no doubt be able to look past many of these quirks, especially in light of other little touches such as the ability to unlock 'Evolution' models of vehicles by accruing sufficient mileage for your team's designers to develop them.
The Jekyll and Hyde nature of the gameplay carries over into the visual presentation as well. The damage model, with its shattering glass, mangled bodywork, bumpers and bonnets being ripped off and plumes of smoke is reasonably impressive, as is the sprawling vistas that greet players as they compete in events around the world; the dirt and mud that accumulates on your vehicle throughout a stage; the reflection and lens flare as you slide over an ice-laden course or climb over a hill at the break of dawn. All great stuff, but then you're confronted with PSOne-era hallmarks such as pop-up. Though mostly constrained to incidental objects such as roadside barriers and fences, the more wide-open tracks such as those found in Sweden and New Zealand play host to a great deal of background pop-up. Like much of the title, the visuals, given a bit more care, could have been noticeably better.
Mercifully, the in-game music in WRC3 defaults to the lowest possible setting, thereby sparing all but the most inquisitive of players from an eclectic selection of utter rubbish; with tracks ranging from poor to downright awful. A trend first propagated with the debut of Wipeout, techno music and racing games have since become indelibly linked; a trend of which WRC3 is but the latest victim. Thankfully, the nature of the gameplay is such that the whine of your engine, punctuated only by the monotone instructions of your seemingly unflappable co-driver, is actually preferable. The pitiable selection of music tracks and genres aside, the title does a commendable job of recreating the sounds of the sport. Fly-bys of each venue are accompanied by the proper voice-overs and sections of crowd will actually cheer as you careen through a section of the stage.
It's not perfect, but for those who desire the authentic feel and all the licensed amenities that go along with the sport, WRC3 is really the only choice, most notably because... well, it is the only choice. There are better playing rally games on the market, but as a package, there's a lot here to appease fans.